Google NoFollow Links Update: How UGC and Sponsored Links Impact SEO

Google Update on NoFollow Links

Google has just announced an update for NoFollow link attribute on this 10th September 2019. And added two more attributes as new ways to identify the nature of links. This is in a bid to give value to and increase the understanding of the link graph. It marks the fundamental change related to one of their important signals used in the algorithms for ranking. From March 2020 onwards, the webmasters can give more information on the external links by adding rel=“ugc” and rel=“sponsored”. This works alongside the attribute rel=“nofollow” introduced approx. 15 years before.

The backlink profile of the site such as the quality and volume of links from referencing website correlates highly with related popularity along with related performance in the organic searches. This latest update is going to have a significant impact on the mode of calculation of link equity or popularity. It means that after March 2020, there is going to have a huge effect on the search engine ranking.

Three Types of rel= “ ” Link Attributes (NoFollow, UGC & Sponsored)

  1. rel=“nofollow” – this attribute is helpful when you need to link a page but do not wish to imply an endorsement such as passing along the ranking credit onto another page. Google introduced this attribute many years ago to combat UGC spam in the form of reviews and forum comments that used to affect the search result quality. Now webmasters can mark up the links from website sections and search engines disregard them after identification in algorithm calculations.
  2. rel=“ugc” – is the User Generated Content recommended for the links present within UGC as forum posts, guest comments and comments.
  3. rel=“sponsored” – this attribute is for identifying the links present on the site created as part of compensation agreements, sponsorships, or advertisements. This attribute helps to avoid possible link schemes to manipulate the site ranking or page rank and you can use it to flag such links. It hints that this is a sponsored link from some user-generated content.

How Nofollow Was Considered Before

Google introduced rel=“nofollow” to combat comment and link spams. This signified that hyperlinks with this rule applied would pass the zero SEO value. It in turn deterred the spammers from the abuse of forums, blogs, and other similar public websites. Google made the application of nofollow attributes necessary to paid for and sponsored links.

The main purpose of the attribute was to stop the link building manipulative behaviour and it helped to achieve the purpose even if this was not perfect.

The Purpose of Adding These New Links Attributes by Google

With the introduction of nofollow attribute, webmasters were able to mark links from site sections and the search engines could disregard it in algorithm calculations. This worked well until the next update launch the ‘webspam algorithm’ in 2012. The Penguin update targeted manipulative building of links by removing the ways via which the sites could manipulate the rankings like the use of low-quality directories and link farms.

While the sites had to give huge penalties, the webmasters discovered another lucrative income source that of selling quality links as sponsored content or marketing campaigns. Google brought changes in Webmaster Guidelines penalizing sites trading or selling links manipulatively. More sites adding the nofollow attribute to links compromised its link data. Genuine, need-based links were no longer considered as such affecting the output quality for the main algorithm and link spam.

With the new attributes as announced by Google, they want to improve data quality used within the machine learning search engine models. Automatic identification of UGC, passing on of the link equity, or disregard for sponsored links improves the accuracy of backlink graph of internet, rewarding the quality sites for their popular content.

The Impact of This “Nofollow” Update

Since the introduction of nofollow attribute, the links do not pass authority. Besides, Google does not count it as a factor to rank websites. As per the latest update from the search engine giant, nofollow links and the other two new attributes will find use as hints. They are going to use the link attributes for identifying the links they wish to exclude or consider from search. This way Google will have a better understanding and analysis of links in the system. They will also utilize the nofollow links to crawl and index.

Links have valuable information to improve the search and this improves the understanding of unnatural link patterns. With the shift to the hint model, there is no more chance of losing important information. This allows the site owners to identify the links that do not deserve the weight of the first-party endorsement.

How To Deal With Link Attributes After This Update

The sites that use nofollow attribute to block the sponsored links and mention their separation from the page linked to will continue to get support from the search engine. This means that there is no need for changing the existing nofollow links. One can use multiple rel value in links such as rel=“ugc sponsored” is a valid attribute as well hinting that this sponsored link comes from user-generated content. Use the nofollow with new attributes for backward compatibility with services not supporting new attributes and this still remains valid. Keep using the nofollow attribute as flagging links and avoid penalties for link scheme. There is no need to change existing markup and with systems appending this to the new links, the situation continues. For convenience, though one might switch to rel=“sponsored”.

Avoid probable link schemes with use of rel=“nofollow” or rel=“sponsored” for flagging the links. There is no wrong use of attribute except for the sponsored links.


Using the latest link attribute updates from Google facilitate better processing of links for web analysis. This might include own content when people linking to you use such attributes. The attributes nofollow, ugc, and sponsored work as hits to incorporate as per ranking requirements. For indexing and crawling, nofollow becomes hint from March 2020. Reviewing the backlink profile and comparing it with SEO competitors seems like the right place to begin. This way you can understand potential influences on the site.

Recent Articles

Browse some of our latest articles...